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Friday, July 24, 2009

On Waiting (Psalm 130)

Psalm 130, the De Profundis, is my favorite Psalm because I think it so adequately highlights the state of life for the human individual and so rightly captures the essence of “waiting for the Lord”. The concept of waiting for the Lord is of primary importance for the life of the Christian for numerous reasons. Firstly, it points to the nature of revelation as progressive and non—immediate. God cannot possibly reveal to us the whole of revelation in our lives because we would not, as humans, be able to either understand it or accept it. And so God reveals it slowly so as to slowly wean us off our own wills and onto his. Secondly, it points to the Theological Virtue of Hope, which is of essential importance both in this life, and for those of us who go to Purgatory. Other virtues I see to be wrapped up in this idea of waiting are patience, an allied virtue of fortitude, and humility, an allied virtue of temperance. Finally, this waiting must be done with an attitude of prayer, and with love for God and his will.
The De Profundis starts off by exclaiming “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my plea.” This is very telling of the human condition, which itself is in the “depths” of being. Because of our state of sin and disunion with God, we are ignorant of true reality until it is revealed to us, and we are left in an existence of darkness and uncertainty. This is what it means to cry out from the depths, to plea to God for revelation and forgiveness of sins which separates us from him. My favorite part of Psalm 130 is the stanza in which it states, “My soul longs for the Lord more than watchman at daybreak. Let watchmen count on daybreak, and Israel count on the Lord.” This statement truly is profound in that it states absolute certainty in the coming of the Lord. Its stating that for Israel (the Church and its people) the coming of the Lord is more certain then even the coming daybreak! Oh such Faith and Hope in the Lord. And this is where the Theological virtue of hope enters—hope, being the certainty of God’s covenant being fulfilled, has more confidence than even the scientific and experiential certitude that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Traditionally, we have hope in God’s forgiveness of sins, and thus our receiving eternal life. However, I posit that, in this life, we also have certitude that God will reveal to us everything that we need to know. This seems to be a pretty obvious statement, for why would God not reveal to us that which we need to know in order to fulfill his will. But in our human fraility, we frequently doubt God’s intention to reveal to us his will or plan, primarily because we are impatient.
This finally is where the virtues of patience and humility enter. We must be patient with God. He knows us better than ourselves and so we must be prepared to bear the burden of the unknown until he sees it fit for us to know it. This patience also entails an element of humility, because it will be the humble person who realizes that they are finite, and that God knows better than he or she. It will also take a humble person to realize that they may have a lack of patience.
Waiting for the Lord is necessary because from the depths we are crying. Indeed God hears our pleas, and he cries out to his children to wait until the appointed time for his revelation. God will always comfort us and always tell us what we need to know, sometimes it just takes time. It is then when we must offer up whatever suffering we may be enduring, in order to come into better union with him and eventually be lifted from the depths and into the eternal light.

On Happiness

The Church teaches that happiness comes solely from God, because only God and union with him as such can provide one a truly fulfilling happiness. However, popular wisdom seems to suggest also that one only has to choose to be happy in order to be happy. What are the dynamics of each of these statements and how do they relate to each other?

Happiness as coming solely from God: Nothing on the earth can make us entirely fulfilled or happy. Because we were created for union with an ultimate and infinite being, no immediate and finite pleasure can ever fully satisfy us. This is what Augustine means when he states that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” Therefore, on earth true and absolutely fulfilling happiness is not able to received or attained. However, because the Lord desires to be happy, there must be some way in which we can get the fullness of happiness possible in this earthly life. Since happiness comes through union with Christ, the most obvious way in which we would receive happiness in this life would be through the primary means of union with Christ in this world… through the Sacraments, especially that of the Eucharist and the Holy Mass.

However, even though happiness comes most completely from God, that does not preclude our choice in the matter. Whereas God offers us virtually unlimited and free happiness by means of union with him through the Eucharist, a gift is merely an empty vessel unless it is properly received by the receiver. It like any of the other theological and spiritual gifts or virtues—God freely gives them to us, such as grace, but it is only through our full and willing acceptance of them that we can truly receive them and be transformed by them. This is how we as human persons have a choice in our happiness. We can choose to try to make our own finite happiness, and end up feeling unfulfilled, or we can willfully and joyfully accept the infinite happiness God gives to us and be happy even when are sad or suffering. When we are sad we only need to choose to be suffering with Christ, which is an acceptance of his infinite happiness and a step towards union with him. We need only to receive the Eucharist, which is the most important thing anyone can do each day. Therefore, we need only to praise and love God to be truly happy, for all other things are changing, finite, and in vain.

Therefore, these two ideas of happiness coming from God and human persons choosing to be happy are not contradictory to each other, but merely the choice to be happy is limited to choosing the ultimate and infinite, or choosing the immediate and finite.